No, Japanese people are not drunk-shaming salarymen.

#nomisugi is not a thing, but Orientalism is, and here’s how it ruined an ad campaign.


Hi, everyone. It’s time for another edition of

lol, Japanese people are so weird and backwards, rofl

this time, with a bonus lesson about advertising at the end.

So anyway, maybe you’ve seen this new video that’s making the rounds. It’s of a smart social awareness campaign aimed at reducing dangerous drinking practices in Japan:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tBaoKVZVyMc

As Mashable tells us, by taking pictures of passed-out salarymen and tagging them with #nomisugi (‘drinking too much’), the Tokyo-based Yaocho bar chain has started a viral campaign, helping Japanese people to make better choices about alcohol.

Unfortunately, the whole thing is a lie.

Here’s a chart showing the #nomisugi tag’s progress over the last week:

That tiny blip on the left is when the Creative Director and Senior Account Executive of the ad agency Ogilvy & Mather made a few #nomisugi tweets, which they then included as screenshots in the video. The bump on the 29th is the day that they released the video, and the following action is when the advertising industry blogs picked it up.

That dead space in the middle is the period of time where nobody in the world, not even Japan, was talking about #nomisugi. Because it wasn’t a thing.

Of course, there’s no way #nomisugi would take off in Japan,

because it doesn’t make any sense as a hashtag.

On Twitter, where every character counts, why would a Japanese person waste 8 characters writing out #nomisugi, when they could write it in their native script as #飲み過ぎ, which takes only 4? Plus, switching between Japanese script and alphabetical letters on a smartphone is annoying. That’s why trending topics on Japanese twitter use Japanese characters, not Roman letters.

The video also seems completely off-brand for Yaocho. Yaocho is a classy establishment that sells bottles of Dom Pérignon for $250, and hors d’oeuvres like raw ham and avocado for $15. A decent whisky is $14. Even a lightweight would need a good $60-70 just to get started here. This is not where the real drunkards go.

And if we go to Yaocho’s lonely Facebook page, they don’t seem to be particularly excited about the ad. They didn’t actually post it on their page until after it was already viral on the English-language internet. They do seem to be running an actual promotion, though:

“Until the end of June, if you bring your phone and show us a tweeted pic with a sleeping drunk person that you’ve tagged with the #nomisugi hashtag, we’ll give you a free shot of tequila!”

So, uh, they’re rewarding people for shaming alcoholics…with free alcohol. I also have a hard time believing that a place that has two-hour all-you-can-drink specials would be worried about binge drinking.

They also seem to be dimly aware that taking pictures of people without their consent, even in public, is illegal in Japan:

“Warning! There is the issue of privacy, so don’t get their face in the picture, okay? And don’t upset them and start a fight!”

This whole thing seems really ill-conceived. What’s going on here?

Well, let’s review.

1. The original ‘public service’ #nomisugi campaign in Japan was nonexistent, and the only people that ever used the hashtag were the creators of the video, and a couple of their marketer friends, whose tweets also appear in the video.

2. The ad campaign in its current form is all in English, so Japanese people can’t read it. So its utility as a social awareness movement is nil.

3. It asks for them to do something that most people recognize as being illegal, all for the promise of a free shot of tequila.

So this doesn’t seem aimed at getting Japanese people to improve their society. Also, the ad barely mentions Yaocho, and gives no real information about it — not even a URL. So it isn’t telling Japanese people, or even English speakers, to go to the Yaocho bar. This can’t be making Yaocho any money.

This brings us to the question, then: why was this even made? Who is this for?

My guess: this has nothing to do with binge drinking, or Japan, or even Yaocho.

It’s actually an ad for Ogilvy and Mather, the agency that made the video.

I think somebody at the Japanese branch of Ogilvy and Mather was hoping that this spot would win them an award, and make them some money down the road.

As a friend who is in the advertising business told me,

‘the easiest way to win new clients is to show off the
hardware sitting on the agency mantle’.

That is, advertising agencies have to hustle to get companies to hire them to run their ad campaigns, and one of the best ways to do that is to dazzle potential clients with a bunch of trophies from industry awards shows.

Also, nothing attracts new big clients like past big clients, and being able to say that you’ve done work for one of the ‘biggest bar chains in Tokyo’ can make you look very attractive to a potential client.

Of course, as it turns out, Yaocho isn’t a big chain at all. A quick look at their site shows that they have a grand total of two locations.

But even if the ad doesn’t dazzle clients based on name value, and even if this doesn’t take home an award at Cannes Lions, Ogilvy knew that this would go viral.

After all, it’s got all the hallmarks of a Euro-American fantasy about Japan:

It calls Japan ‘peculiar’,

it tells us that Japanese people are culturally different from us,

it tells us that Japanese people are physically different from ‘us’ (low tolerance, compared to who?)

and it strokes our ego, telling us that we are superior because we can control Japanese people whenever ‘we’ ‘decide’ to.

Really, all they did was take this joke page and turn it into a video.

I’ve talked about this before, but Euro-Americans seem to be really fond of marveling at the weirdness or backwardness of Asian countries and people.

Yeah, drunks sleeping outside is normal. So?

Really, the idea that sleeping drunks are a major societal ill that needs to be fixed is a bit of a stretch. It’s true that passed-out salarymen are a common sight in Japan. But that’s because Japan’s a relatively safe place. Even in Tokyo, you can sleep on the street, and odds are that nobody will bother you — which is why most people don’t seem to regard sleeping on a bench a big deal. Police, who often don’t have anything else better to do, will sometimes wake the person up and send them home in a taxi. Sometimes they’ll even lend you cab fare if you’re broke.

Also, thanks to Japan’s well-developed public transportation system, people don’t tend to die from alcohol like they do in the US, where you’re over 10 times more likely to die in a drunk driving accident.

Anyway, if either Ogilvy actually cared about people drunk on the streets,

they’d have started a campaign to do something about the people that sleep (and sometimes die) there because they have nowhere else to go.

And they wouldn’t be encouraging us to take pictures of them.

In short, the issue of drunk salarymen napping on sidewalks might not be a huge social problem in Japan, but it’s a source of endless entertainment for Orientalist weirdos, who seem to derive a bizarre sense of joy out of witnessing evidence that even the robotic, inscrutable Japanese like to have too much fun once in awhile.

But conceptually, this is a genius campaign.

I mean, it takes two common millennial pastimes — laughing at weird ethnic people, and armchair activism — and mashes them up into a two-minute video. We get to giggle at how adorably backwards Japanese people are, but we never feel bad, because it’s all for a good cause.

It’s not everybody that can generate buzz among weirdo bedroom dwellers and hipsters alike. If it weren’t so poorly executed, it probably would have gotten somebody some money.

Granted, all of the above analysis is my own.

I don’t have a degree in marketing, and I’m not trying to take anybody’s job. I’m not saying that I can shoot a better video or write better copy than the Ogilvy people.

But I know banally racist exploitation, and pandering to Euro-American fantasies, when I see it. I’ve seen it done well. This was not done well.

So, to all the creatives out there:

Don’t make these mistakes. If you have a story to tell, make it an authentic one. And if you need someone with certifiable experience in the fields of exploitation of dark people, get at me.

My twitter is @dexdigi,

and I’m an expert at this sort of thing.